Autotourism. (Stamp, 1970s.)

In the 1970s tourism was already a big business in the Soviet Union. It was promoted as a leisure activity that indicated freedom and equality. Of course, real freedom and equality were still mostly lacking in the Soviet Union – and that’s exactly the reason they had to be advertised. Here is as stamp from the series “Foreign Tourism in the Soviet Union”. It might initially feel weird that stamps promoting foreign tourism were published for Soviet citizens and in Russian language, but when seen as propaganda, it isn’t that weird. State wanted comrades to think, that Soviet Union is an open country, where foreign tourists can come and drive around everywhere (as indicated by the beautifully carved landscapes at the background) and take photos – all activities that were restricted for foreigners. Stamps with wide circulation were good means of spreading this false image.

Route map to the Black Sea coast. (Brochure, 1980s.)

Yes, one could travel from foreign countries to the Soviet Union with private car, especially from the 1970s onward. There was a catch, though: only few main highways were allowed to auto tourists, and the Soviet traffic police GAI had checkpoints, where they monitored that cars continued the journey and didn’t deviate from the route. Moreover, the law allowed you to drive only 500 km. per day, and you had to book accommodation beforehand. So basically your road trip began to resemble a train journey with a private compartment. In this brochure one finds the routes availabe to Finnish tourists. Although there were not that many roads, the distances were huge. From the Finnish border to Crimea one had to drive 2500 km., and to Yerevan, Armenia, it’s over 3500 km. The worst thing was that you had to drive back home via the same road.

Camping site Butovo. (Brochure, 1980s.)

Camping was a popular hobby in the Soviet Union. Early on, in 1930s, it meant mostly overnight hiking trips outside the buzzing industrial cities, but later, during the 1980s, trips got longer and reached further away. At that point some citizens already sported private cars, for example Lada or Mosckvich, and in there one could fit the family, a tent, and the necessary gear for a proper camping trip. Unfortunately, even roadtrippers were not free to go anywhere. The roads permitted to vacationers were clearly marked on the map, and the nights had to be spent in official camping sites, like the one here at Butovo, just outside Moscow.